Ash, Part 15

November 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Fifteen is a good number, if only because it means I’ve updated the same story 15 times. That’s dedication. Well, finishing it would be dedication, but I’m almost there. Hopefully? I think I’m about 3/4 of the way through. That’s based on nothing but a feeling, but only time will tell.

I also have not received the story idea yet for the next piece. There’s no rush, obviously, but I’ve had one or two people ask about it already. Excited, or just bored with this story? I don’t care! I’m writing it anyway!

With that, more fiction:

Chapter 15: Sing, Sing O Muse

An empty hospital greeted me when I clambered through the tunnels and back into the half-light of the lobby. A few sounds lilted through the dimness and the decay, but I ignored them. There was nothing left for me here. There hadn’t been anything for me here in the first place. I kicked down the front doors and strode through into the cloudy light of the “day”. I half-expected the clouds to part and the sun to shine down on the conquering hero. I came, I saw, I clawed my way out of a weird thing that eats memories. That was close enough to conquering for me.

Conquering hero, that was me. Ryan Kazlauskas. Kicker of butts, woo-er of phantom ladies, and possessor of the most bad-ass look this side of the Realm of Dreams. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there wasn’t nothing that this guy can’t handle. Ain’t no mountain higher, and there sure as hell ain’t no valley lower.

The crows huddled in a murder on the steps, looking the worse for wear and grumpy when they saw me. They scattered and vented their annoyance as I walked through them, but it would take more than caws and crow droppings to get me to stop. I did, however, cover my head as I ran under them. Hey, a bad-ass has to maintain his image, doesn’t he? And crow guano ain’t exactly the rage these days.

The ruined city loomed over me but it seemed a little less ominous than it had before. It was still just as empty, though, and for a second I missed Spes. Sure, the guy was creepy, unsettling, and annoyingly confusing, but he had helped me out. I figured there was a reason why he was doing it, but I resolved that I knew little and less, and the less I thought I knew, the better off I was. What did I know? He helped me, and more honestly than anyone else, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him again.

Although, I thought, I also wouldn’t mind a hint about where to go. Despair had mentioned the Tower of Dreams, but I couldn’t see anything in the distance. And judging by the way that distance worked in this place, I don’t think it was a matter of just walking there. But I had no other option, so I threw my jacket over my shoulder and marched off down a different road from the one I went down…how long ago?

That thought stopped me. I was dreaming, that much is certain, and I was fairly certain I was in a coma. But time didn’t pass the same here. There was no sun, no night, nor do I particularly think they clocks here. I didn’t feel hungry or tired unless I wanted to, so that was no help. It was pretty nifty having a brain used to being in a body but not having that body, all things considered, but it wasn’t a lick of help here.

I was suddenly chilled, so cold I paused in my walking. Comas, like I realized before with Despair, aren’t fun and games, and the longer you’re out the worse they are. What would happen if I got back, only to become a vegetable, bed-ridden and brain damaged? What if I already was a vegetable, and this whole thing was my brain’s swan song before it collapsed into madness and insanity?

What was it that Guilt said? The words came back like they were branded behind my eyelids: I am here to watch you die.

“Hiya!”

I screamed, I admit it. It was a bit girlish, but I was far past being concerned with that sort of thing now. I took a step back and stumbled on the ground, fouling my grab for my gun. My butt hit the dirt and my teeth clacked, the taste of blood flowing into my mouth. I fumbled for my gun again, but barely had it half-drawn when a shadow fell over me.

I looked up, fully ready to be eaten again when Spes’ face filled my vision like a giant hot-air balloon. He was smiling that same, goofy smile, and still wearing that same ratty coat. The waggon wheels squeaked in what must have been a hello, and he offered me a hand.

I didn’t take it. “Compromise tricked me before. How do I know you’re you, Spes?”

Spes frowned. “She shouldn’t do that. But she does it all the time. Still, shouldn’t. I’m Spes. She’s Compromise. We’re not the same.”

I had to admit, that sounded a lot like Spes, but I had to stick to my guns. My gun. Whatever, but I didn’t care to trust Spes yet. He looked upset, but aside from that, there wasn’t anything I had on him to prove he was really who he/she/it was. And then it hit me. It wasn’t foolproof, but it might work. 

“Tell me a joke.”

Spes blinked but said nothing. I slowly reached for my gun. One of the first things Spes said to me was how much he liked laughter, and there’s a saying in my precinct: don’t trust a guy who can’t take a joke. He was quiet for so long I started to actually get scared. If this was Compromise pulling my leg again, and by the way, where was she, then why drag it out? And if it wasn’t Spes or Compromise…I didn’t want to shoot this guy, just in case, but he wasn’t leaving me much choice.

I pulled my gun out of my jacket when Spes suddenly spoke. His voice changed from the normal, half-there sing-song to a strong, regular cadence, but it was still undeniably Spes.

“There were two hunters hunting in the forest, when one of them suddenly collapses to the ground. His friend calls the emergency line and gets the dispatcher. “Help! Help! I think my friend is dead!” The dispatcher tries to calm him down. “Alright, here’s what you do. First, make sure he’s dead.” The hunter gets off the line and the dispatcher hears a gunshot in the background. “Ok,” the hunter asks when he returns, “now what?”

I chuckled a little, and Spes lit up like the sun. I wasn’t certain, and couldn’t think of anything better, but the look of happiness on his face was far too real to be anything but genuine. Spes clapped his hands, and I came this close to giving him a hug.

“Goddammit Spes, where the hell have you been?” I asked.

“Around. Where I’m needed. Here. There.” He offered his hand again.

I took it and climbed back to my feet. “Well, can you stick with me for a bit? I’m…a little lost.”

“That’s nothing new. Sure. Where you going? Home? Death? Left?”

“No. I mean, yes, the first one. Home. I figure it’s time I left. Despair said I had to get to the Tower of Dreams and put on my crown. Do you know where that is? Hell, do you know what that is?”

Spes nodded furiously. “Yep. Dangerous, though. Lots of hmmm things in-between here and there. Desire won’t want to let you through. Greed might. Ambition would. But locked up. Compromise, maybe? Don’t know. Rage won’t. Rage won’t.”

The names bounced off me. I could figure out the gist of what he was saying, but nothing stuck. Rage? Desire? The big guys who wanted me for their own, sure. But Ambition and Greed? Locked up? I didn’t even know where to start.

“Alright, that’s a big deal to take in. Let’s start this over from the beginning.” I said as we walked in a random direction.

“Sure. Hi. I’m Spes. Your head doesn’t really hurt, you know. You just think it does, because that’s what he wants. It doesn’t have to hurt you at all. Oh, and you can pull that out if you’d like.”

I glowered at him. He smiled at me, just like he had the first time, and the cart squeaked. “Very funny. Let’s just get to the Tower, shall we? My throne or something is there.”

Spes nodded again. “Yah. Yah. Everyone who is awake and dreams goes there. We…normally can’t get in, unless we ride you.”

“Wait a second, “we” can’t get in, unless “they” ride you? Spes, are you one of the spirits that live here?” I immediately knew it was a dumb question the second it came out. Obviously he was, so I wracked my brains for a second question. “Wait, forget that, I have a better question. You’re the one person who freely told me their name who also didn’t think I was a lord of something. Why?”

Spes said “I never hide. Never. Not always there, but never hide. Not in me. Names have power. I give power. Not through hiding. Never.”

Naturally, this made no sense to me until I realized I was just shy of the mark.

“Spes, what emotion are you?”

He turned and gave me the biggest, brightest smile I’d ever seen. The world actually seemed to light up around me, and yes, the sun did come out of the clouds. And I suddenly knew.

“Hope. You’re Hope. Stupid, dumb, Hope.”

Spes nodded. “Hope. Spes. Elpis. Asha. All these are mine, but I can’t tell. I can’t tell, ever. Only lead up to. Only show the way.”

I chuckled again. “Well, I’ll be damned. And why can’t you ride me? Oh wait, you won’t tell me. Is this something deeper? Like, you’ll call if I answer, no matter where I am?”

Spes shrugged, but he was smiling. I was happy, even just a little. Bad-ass, and clever? Wasn’t I a keeper?

And then there was the roar.

The word isn’t right. “Roar” brings to mind lions or animals. The wild force of Niagara falls, or the dull noise of an atomic blast. Roar brings to mind the idea of a sound that is fearsome, of wild, untamed, unrelenting fury. Of a primal power that can only be expressed like a verbal strike. Of power unleashed.

That is not nearly enough to describe the sound.

The world shook. Stones skittered off the tops of buildings and tumbled down, joined by chunks of concrete the size of refrigerators. Buildings collapsed into each other, exploding into dust and shards as they died shivering, happy to be dead and saved from the sound. The ground danced like the very sound of the roar was repulsive, so much so that the earth violently rejected it. The dream world itself stretched and warped as the world pulled away from the roar. My spirit felt like it was an elastic stretched just to the point before breaking.

I couldn’t have stood even if the ground would have let me. The roar filled me as completely as the dark. It pounded at my ears until my eardrums broke and blood poured down my face. It pounded at my bones until they shattered into powder. It pounded at my organs until they dissolved into liquid that rippled as it echoed the roar. My thoughts evaporated, incoherent above the beat of the roar. Blood filled me as my body was pulped and crushed by the sound. I was pressed down and mashed by the sound, until there was nothing but blood inside me. And it burned.

I was mad beyond any rational thought. I was hate and rage and annoyance pressed down into a ball of quivering fury. I was every driver cut off in rush-hour traffic married to the Count of Monte Cristo. I was ready to explode, ready to burst out and crush everything around me. It didn’t matter what. Nothing mattered now. There was the roar and there was me, and I Was the Roar.

The roar suddenly subsided and so did my anger. I was dazed, but once the earth stopped bucking, I found I could climb, albeit shakily, to my feet. Even Spes seemed stunned by the force of the sound. I checked myself over, but found that aside from some scrapes and dust that had gotten everywhere, I was fine. I probed a finger into my ear, but only pulled out dust and a little sweat. No blood. No rage. I sighed in relief. I was alright.

The street couldn’t say the same. Entire rows of buildings were toppled, some ground so fine that I stood taller than they did. Barring a few buildings that miraculously stayed upright, the city had been pounded flat by the force of the roar. It was like a bomb had gone off. No, that was like a nuke and a hurricane had had a baby.

“Spes,” I asked, my voice hushed into reverence by the assault, “what was that?”

His pointed to the distance and my heart dropped into my gut. His face was grim and wore an expression I’d never seen on him. It was halfway between fear and madness, and it scared the piss out of me.

When I looked at what his finger was pointing at, the shit was scared out of me too. The hospital still stood, but fires engulfed it. Blood-red flames licked out of the windows and raced along the walls, devouring it from the outside in. A figure stood in front, who looked like he was made of fire and blood.  Screaming faces pushed against his skin, trying to burst free. He looked like boiling water with a demon’s head. His arms were outstretched like he was a conductor leading the orchestra in a great symphony as the hospital came crashing down.

“Rage.”

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